Given The Kills’ track record of consistently keeping gaps between albums at two to three years in length, it’s shocking that Ash & Ice finds itself coming to fruition five years after the popularity boom they experienced with their fourth album Blood Pressures. Considering guitarist Jamie Hince’s loss of the use of his left middle finger after a series of accidents, it’s almost a miracle that The Kills continue to exist at all; Persistence overcomes adversity, though, and while Ash & Ice isn’t a career-shifting or genre-altering masterpiece, it sees the duo doing what they do best with a new set of tools and creating the magic we’ve come to expect from them.
The Kills’ sound hasn’t changed much since Hince’s accident, but the introduction of synth programming and the ramped-up use of drum machines—more so than on Blood Pressures, where live drums found their way into the mix as well—gives the album a slightly more electronic vibe, despite being first and foremost an indie rock album. When it comes to showing off the new and old styles, the singles do the best job; the drawling blues rock of Doing It to Death opens the album with a bang, showing off the increased use of synths at the same time, while Siberian Nights pops in during the album’s quieter phase to similar effect with its screeching string effects and more natural sound.
Even without an outwardly obvious concept behind the album’s tracking, the songs tend to be split into two categories based on their place in the album; the first half features the livelier singles alongside some of the album’s more diverse productions. Hard Habit to Break features a skittering, programmed beat that echoes throughout the song, giving the somewhat typical Kills song some upbeat flavour that helps it stand out, while Days of Why and How mixes its slow rock groove with dancehall-influenced rhythms, taking what could essentially be an acoustic indie rock ballad and turning it on its head.
The second half, however, is a much more subdued affair: Siberian Nights and Black Tar bring some energy to it, and the chugging power of the blazing mid-tempo Impossible Tracks adds an edge to this section, but the remaining tracks almost bring the album to a dead stop thanks to a lack of much energy or spark behind them. Hum for Your Buzz—featuring nothing but Alison Mosshart’s striking vocals and a buzzing electric guitar as its accompaniment—promisingly opens the second half with its striking presence, but the general order of songs leaves specific tracks feeling out of place, and the smattering of stronger tracks never manage to cover up the weaker material they leave in the dust.
For those in the market for a solid serving of The Kills, though, Ash & Ice is pretty much what you’ve been waiting for. Despite Hince’s injury and the slight shift in style it caused, increasing the electronic influence in their music, they came out the other side of the ordeal as the same pair they started as, with Mosshart’s powerful, distinct voice commanding your attention across each track regardless of its style. It may not be the pinnacle of their discography, but it’s nothing to sneeze at, either.